Ski Tips from The Kuru: Learning the Art of the Cliff Drop
Nothing caps off an insane run down a massive Alaskan spine with a helicopter overhead and the camera shooting your every turn, like launching a huge no holds barred cliff drop, stomping the landing and then riding away with the grin of a champion.
Ok… so TGR isn’t calling anytime soon and a heli ride in AK is still sitting near the top of a very long bucket list. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t learn to stick that cliff before the magic phone call comes. If anything, you can just impress your friends skiing at Moonlight Basin this weekend.
With that in mind, learning how to ski and how to tackle drop cliffs can be broken down into 4 parts:
It’s all in the set up. Set your line off the cliff directly into your landing. Toss a snowball off from the top to judge trajectory and air time. It’s important to approach the edge of the cliff in an aggressive body position, hands forward with knees slightly bent. This puts you in a balanced position and ready to “jump” off the cliff.
As you reach the edge of the cliff, pop (extend) with both legs evenly, literally jumping off of the cliff. This is far better than simply skiing off the cliff, as it keeps your weight forward and helps keep your body compact as you are dropping towards the landing. “Popping” off a cliff allows you to dictate the trajectory of your air and makes it easier to get your body in a good compact and centered position.
This is the air section (this is where you are usually thinking, “oh my gosh why did I jump off that” or, “whooooaaaa that ground is comingfast”). This is also the hang-time that gives us that addictive weightless feeling and that pros fill with spins and tricks. Whatever trick you are doing, commitment is a must. Stay tight with your knees pulled into your chest and your hands forward and together. Bringing your skis up to your hand (instead of opening up and reaching down to your ski) and holding your grab will help you stay centered and balanced in the air. Keep your eyes fixed on the direction of your trick. Don’t stop looking until you can spot your landing. This will help you keep your bearings and your whit about you as the world spins by.
You can’t stay in the air forever. Everyone has to land sometime, so prepare yourself. At this point you are in a nice, compact body position with your weight centered, and your eyes spotting a nice clean pow landing. Just like an airplane, it’s time to put down the landing gear and extend your legs toward touchdown. It’s important to not let your legs drop down below, but to extend them to the snow purposefully, much like you would do if you were squishing a bug. Reaching for the snow helps to more effectively absorb the impact of the landing, making it easier to ride away. I see so many young cliff droppers let their legs freely drop towards the landing and splat or get bucked head over teakettle expecting to land just because their feet were underneath them. You need to fight for it. “Stomp” your landing with authority and ride away clean.
Next time you are out, try a small drop. These steps apply to all cliffs 1ft to 100ft. Start small and work your way up. In no time at all you will amaze yourself and your friends with your cliff-dropping prowess. Don’t forget to spend the next chair ride shamelessly bragging to your buddies about how huge it was.
About The Author:
Patrick “Kuru” Gannon is the Head Coach for the Moonlight Basin Freeride Team, and founder of Team Human. When he is not coaching he can be found training for Moonlight’s Freeskiing World Tour Qualifier on March 22-25. Originally from Groton NH, he has spent the past 26 years pursuing snow. He has hucked cliffs on the icy slopes of New England, 14ers of Colorado, the ski fields of New Zealand, and even the glaciers of Europe. Sometimes he even lands them too.